Seventh anniversary of the launch of the Kurdish liberation struggle - interview with Abdullah Ocalan

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 103 - October/November 1991

15 August 1991 marked the seventh anniversary of the launching of the national liberation struggle and the founding of the ARGK (People's Liberation Army of Kurdistan). A European delegation was invited to join the celebrations at the Academy Mahsum Korkmaz (a martyr of the PKK/ARGK) training camp in the Lebanon. TREVOR RAYNE of Fight Racism! Fight imperialism! and member of the Kurdistan Solidarity Committee in London gives some impressions of his visit and selections from conversations with PKK General Secretary, Abdullah Ocalan (Apo).

High above the Bekaa Valley, deep in the embrace of the Kurdish Revolution. 11 o'clock at night and I am in a tent with the German delegation: the tent allocated to me is crammed with twenty women suckling their babies. A messenger arrives, Apo's speech is tonight.

We scramble down the mountain towards the Centre which doubles as a parade ground and football pitch. The rostrum is floodlit. In front, a space of thirty metres, then a row of guerrillas to attention. Kalashnikovs pointing skyward. Behind them row after row of Kurds cross-legged on the ground, interspersed with the occasional guerrilla. Bonfires burn in the surrounding mountains and figures flicker around them. A salvo of three rockets fired from a nearby Palestinian camp races through the darkness above.

11.15pm, APO - Abdullah Ocalan - appears: 'Biji Apo, Biji Apo' (Long live Apo); the crowd's chant has the rhythm of marching feet through the mountains of Kurdistan. Apo utters his first sentence, punctuated by an explosion of gunfire from the mountains behind. 'Biji Apo, Biji Apo'. This is Kurdistan this is revolution. At the sixth anniversary Apo spoke for six hours. It is cold and windy tonight, 4,500 feet above the Bekaa. We European delegates are getting a bit apprehensive: our translator, a guerrilla, is on security duty and Apo is speaking in Kurdish. He picks his words carefully, painfully and the night gets colder still. The people, maybe 20,000 Kurds, many from Syria, have found their way here over deserts and mountains, many journeying hundreds of miles. They listen with rapt attention, all ages. Half an hour passes before the first shouts of 'Biji Apo'. This time Apo is mercifully brief, by now it is bitterly cold. The speech ends at 1.48 am. The people dance arm-linked-to-arm in great circles.

8.15am, later that morning, and now the crowds are closer to the rostrum, no longer in rows but spread all over the centre; milling around, talking, shaking hands: where are we from, what do we think? Individuals with a smattering of English or German improvise translations. I list the crimes of the British state: the Treaty of Lausanne 1923 which tore their homeland apart, the RAF gas bombing of Kurdish villages. the destruction of the Mahabad Republic in 1946, the arming of Saddam. the support for Turkish colonialism and fascism. They nod vigorously, shake my hand, embrace me, say something about anti-imperialism and proletarian internationalism, making victory salutes in the air.

Apo reappears and resumes his speech. Now it is warm and he speaks more easily. He is no flamboyant orator. A man jumps up from the crowd and begins his own speech. Apo listens, the man concludes his speech to applause. Apo carries on. Someone else rises to speak. Apo listens, applause, resumes. Then a boy age seven or eight shouts out a speech. Applause. Apo resumes:

'Everything comes out of itself here . . . For me, socialism is people coming here, a serious socialism: a people that had no name, no speech found a name, found speech; an identity. This is socialism for me. Socialism makes them free and independent.'


On the day before Apo's night speech I travelled with the European comrades and our Kurdish guerrilla guides down the mountains into the Bekaa Valley for a festival. As we arrived the bus drew towards an enormous throng of people. We stepped out into this chanting, singing, exultant mass that swirled about us. Suddenly, from what seemed to be chaos, the crowd parted and formed a perfect square and gallery leading off towards the hall that would house the festivities. They chanted 'Long live Kurdistan', `Kurdistan or Death', 'Long live Apo', they clapped to that beat of marching feet, they released ululations like a crescendo of horns driving out the order from our senses. Here was the upwelling of a mass unconscious directed by a rational, critical awareness. The self-discovery of a people who had no name, no language. no identity - Kurdistan, Revolution.


Over 450 guerrillas were in the Academy during our stay. In that time approximately 150 returned to do battle in Kurdistan. The majority of guerrillas were men in their twenties and thirties, but I counted over 120 women. Total ARGK strength is over 10,000 guerrillas, approximately 1,000 are women.

'Many, many women come to the guerrillas wanting to fight, a stream of them, but they in particular have been held back in their development by feudal society and that is a problem . . . many cannot read or write.' - Apo

The guerrillas insisted on being called 'guerrillas' and not peshmerga': 'Peshmerga fight and then they return to the feudal life. We are revolutionaries. We want to change society.'

No restrictions were placed on the delegations' movements, except the warning not to wander off in the direction of the nearby Golan Heights. I visited the Academy Library with its pictures of Che, Apo and the Kurdish and Turkish martyrs. many killed in Turkish gaols. The first book I saw was Marx, Engels and Lenin On Ireland. When I returned a few days later the book was out. Along with the Marxist classics were volumes by Apo on party building, dialectics and tactics of the struggle. There was Stalin, Dimitrov from Bulgaria, Cabral from Guinea, Ho and Giap and a rich seam of Middle Eastern revolutionaries that I had never heard of. The guerrillas spend half their day in political education. They try and survive on three or four hours' sleep and wash once a month, simulating the conditions they will endure in the field. This too is education.

Part of the political education are self-criticism sessions and trials, In their self-criticisms guerrillas assess their performance and attitudes. Close friends joined in the criticisms which were conducted in front of large numbers of guerrillas. Typical self-criticisms related to voicing dissent to restricted groups of friends and not to the entire camp, (normally consisting of twenty to thirty guerrillas), 'Careerism' was another fault, meaning to act arrogantly and without sensitivity in front of the people. The guerrillas are taught that life is a moment and they must catch people in those moments when circumstances enable them to recognise possible ways to liberation; careerism is to act as though people will blindly follow. For some readers such sessions may have echoes of the excesses of China's Cultural Revolution or 'brain-washing', but they are conducted in a calm and methodical manner. They help to create the unity and trust necessary for guerrilla units to operate in the midst of possible imminent death. Unlike the destruction of the personality that is the preliminary to training a British Army commando this is the positive socialisation of the individual, not its degradation.

Revolutionary trials are conducted with open debate among all the guerrillas who serve collectively as defence, prosecution and jury, voting on the verdict, with a majority decision determining the outcome. Where the sentence is severe, such as execution, then it must be referred to PKK headquarters for ratification. A recent PKK Congress determined to stamp out arbitrary or unwarranted harsh punishments as part of a process of eliminating feudal practices from its ranks. Cases I witnessed involved endangering individual and group security, countermanding orders and creating confusion in relations with a Turkish left group. Punishment was chiefly some form of labour or confinement to the camp while the performance of the accused is reviewed.


The Kurdish Revolution encompasses all sections of Kurdish society other than the feudal aristocracy that compromises with colonialism and imperialism. Revolutionary mullahs mixed with guerrillas and the thousands who came to the Academy. 'Socialism and religion should both be in the service of humanity. They are not contradictory. Socialism is a science of social struggle on Earth, religion has its laws too . . . When we look at socialism we see the same conceptions .. . everyone should have land and property in equality with each other . . . In the PKK and religion you can see the same values, the same human striving.' - Mullah Abdullah Mohammed

Mullah Abdullah is 98. He fought Turkish chauvinism in the 1920s.


Apo is a revolutionary, a spiritual leader trying to hold all the contradictions of his people and lead them into freedom.

'Lenin had the traditions of Russia to work with, Mao had the history of China and Ho Vietnamese patriotism. What do I have? . . . Kurdish people are complex - all the invaders and colonisers.'

I ask him if there was a moment in his life that has set him on the course he has followed? 'There are many moments . . . Here I am, there you are, all these people,' he gestures about him. 'This! I am astonished.' He is difficult and playful at times, enjoying teasing the Der Spiegel reporter, 'I know German philosophy. I am complex, like your Nietzsche', an intense look, the moustache and the mountains. Then he switches to deadly seriousness, 'I have lived for ten years with a rope around my throat.' It is true.

Above all Apo knows the significance of the struggle he leads:

'To solve the problem of Kurdistan will be to solve the problem of the Middle East. To solve the problem of the Middle East is to influence the whole world situation. This situation in the Middle East is a special juncture of global politics.'

He is scathing about what the Kurdish people have experienced in the name of 'socialism'; a cloak for Turkish, Iraqi or Iranian chauvinism:

'It is clear that my source is socialism, but it is also clear that I have many problems with it. I can't say that this is a normal development of socialism. If I say that I reached something with socialism it is certainly not anything to do with the "real" socialism. If it had been the so-called "real" socialism I would have abandoned everything before now. What I can say is this, if I had been in the TKP(Communist Party of Turkey) I would never have been able to consider or discuss the Kurdish problem and I would never have been able to call myself a Kurd. This kind of socialism is very dangerous and contradictory and I am opposed to it. This is an important point. What we have achieved today we achieved despite "real" socialism.'

Der Spiegel senses a crack in Apo's socialism: 'Yesterday you said that neither socialism nor capitalism had given support to the Kurdish people. Socialism is now dead yet you keep your hammer and sickle?'

'The important thing is not to look at these signs. for example the cross of Christianity or the various symbols of Islam. The sign is not the important thing. The dream of a socialist utopia is not just Marxist-Leninist. it is as old as humanity. 'Humanity can only go forward with socialism, it is the socialisation of the people. Marx analysed the issue scientifically and Lenin applied it in a particular context. Society is so confused that socialist change is necessary. The problem is that socialism was made into a religion in the Soviet Union ... 'You cannot understand us with dogmatic concepts . . . Our people are close to antiquity and in them you can see signs of the first steps of humankind. I try to encourage in them the most positive aspects towards socialism. This allows strong possibilities for creating the socialist ideal . . . Our reality is very specific and contradictory and it is very difficult to explain us with dogmatic language. We are not just making a national liberation struggle, and it is not Stalinism as people say.'

How did socialism degenerate into a religion in the Soviet Union?

'Vulgar materialism became a religion, an inverted form of religion. Religion is based on metaphysics and socialism in the Soviet Union is based on vulgar materialism.

'The thing you can say about the socialism in the Soviet Union is that it must be criticised in the same way as metaphysics was before. The extreme critique of metaphysics turned into a vulgar materialism.

'There is another side to consider. Great Russian nationalism was masquerading as socialism. Socialism was nationalistic there and Lenin identified this as Great Russian chauvinism. Do not look hopelessly at the Russian experiment. Do not look at the Soviet Union as the God of Socialism and the last God at that. There is a sentence from the Prophet Mohammed, "I am the last prophet and Islam is the last religion". Soviet socialism has a similar approach: they claim that they have said everything which can be said for socialism and that they are the biggest of all prophets, but I do not take all that seriously. At one time it was a dogma of the French Revolution as well, the cult of the supreme being at its peak. They did not want to see that there was something after that. Every revolution has something of this in it, imagining itself to be the very pinnacle of development. It is my opinion that the Soviet Union has fallen from its peak and that new peaks will arise.' (Abdullah Ocalan 17 August 1991


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